A single change in a particular brain hormone can increase a person's risk of obesity, two new studies in the February 8, 2006, Cell Metabolism reveal. The researchers found that obese children are more likely to carry a rare variant of so-called ß-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (ß-MSH) than children of normal weight. The findings implicate the hormone in the maintenance of normal body weight and suggest that drugs that mimic the chemical might offer a new avenue for obesity treatment, report the studies' lead authors Stephen O'Rahilly, of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research in the United Kingdom, and Heiko Krude, of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany.
The hormone's important role in maintaining body weight had been overlooked primarily because mice and rats, the subjects of much obesity research, do not produce the chemical, they added. Earlier studies had focused their attention almost entirely on the related chemical a-MSH, a hormone derived from the same precursor protein that is known to suppress appetite in humans and rodents.
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